Saturday, December 31, 2011

Son Delux hub

A fair proportion of the search engine queries which land people on this blog are about lighting. A lot of people in particular are interested in dynamo setups. I use a Son hub and Edelux front light on the bike I ride about 80 per cent of the time. As I've said before, I'm a huge fan of dynamo lighting because it's always there, ready to be turned on as required and never runs flat. The only drawback is a relatively high initial expense. Cyclists have been spoiled by rapid advances in lighting technology in recent years, particularly with LED lighting which draws less current than the old halogen setups and doesn't burn out bulbs every hundred hours or so. 

Despite about four years of good service from my old model Son hub I decided to again raid my savings account for a Christmas treat to myself and splurge on one of the new smaller, lighter Son Delux hubs. These were originally designed for 20 inch folding bikes but by happy accident were discovered to be perfect to drive the new generation of LED lights.

I built the new 32-hole hub up onto a rim a couple of weeks ago and have done a few shorter rides so far and I'm very happy with the result. The resistance of the hub is not noticeable at all when it's turned on, so I've taken to leaving my front and rear lights on during the day. A few friends who has driven past me in the daytime have mentioned how effective the front light in particular is. I haven't done a night ride yet - the daylight hours in Tasmania at this time of year are very long.

I note from Jan Heine's website that Son has a newer model out to address some minor aesthetic and technical issues with this hub. He's written an explanation here. The differences are too tiny for me to be bothered with, this is a hub I'm planning to be happy with for many thousands of kilometres from now.

(If you found this post useful, you might be interested in my posts on the  Schmidt Edelux  LED front light or the Busch & Muller Seculite Plus Rear Light. I'm expecting to post a review of the Busch & Müller DToplight XS Plus in the coming weeks.

4179km so far this year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The stylish randonneur

Most of the time I ride in a pair of old Shimano touring shoes which look like sneakers but have the advantage of stiff soles and standard SPD cleats. Being easy to walk in they're perfect for most purposes but the soles are a bit too soft for longer Audax rides. My faithful Shimano SPD-SL road shoes are just about worn out after years of faithful service, so I've been hunting around for a high quality replacement.

Way back when I raced bikes on the road in the mid 1980s, leather shoes were all the rage. They had both leather uppers and thick leather soles and big slotted cleats which locked in onto the back plate of a pedal. Toe clips and straps held the whole lot rock solid. They were impossible to walk in for more than a few steps because the large, often metal, cleats  protruded from the base of the sole. Despite the fact that the SPDs are a much better system, the old leather shoes were far more comfortable - particularly on long rides.

Since I've been salting away a few dollars each week into a "bike account" all year I've been able to lash out and treat myself to a few bike items in the lead-up to Christmas. When I saw a company called Dromarti offering old-style leather shoes I didn't need much prompting. (I've since noticed Vittoria offering a similar pair of leather shoes with the model name 1976.)

At $A275 shipped, they were't cheap but my first impressions based on around 100km of riding are generally favourable. The shoes are made by Italian footwear firm Marresi and come in either black or a very fetching brown. They're as stylish as all hell. Like leather walking boots, leather cycling shoes take a bit of time to wear in and we still have a little way to go but the wonderful comfort of leather I remember from way back is there in spades with the added stiffness of a plastic sole. They're ok to walk in too, though they feel a little narrow after the Shimano shoes. Something tells me this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

4011km so far this year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

1000km review: Thorn Audax 3

Having done 1000km+ on the Thorn it seems an appropriate time as any for a longer-term review of the Thorn Audax 3 frame I bought earlier this year. On the whole I'm very impressed, although of course there's a few minor niggles that hold it just short of perfection. (Mind you I should be pretty happy since I built it up myself!) One of my biggest complaints is that I haven't had enough time to do as many miles as I'd like. It hasn't been my best year on the bike, I'll hold back on the excuses.

Positives first. The Thorn rides well, the steering is responsive but not overly so and it isn't greatly affected by the weight of a handlebar bag. I haven't noticed any toeclip overlap. The relatively tight rear triangle means the Thorn accelerates well enough to feel sporty and makes light work of a quick stab up short rollers, but at the same time it's comfortable for long distances and rides fine no-hands. The ample braze-ons on the Thorn meant that fitting racks and mudguards was a breeze. I'm deliriously happy with the Gilles Berthoud front rack with its intergral light mount and matching decaleur to hold my handlebar bag snugly in place and of course my Son hub and matching Edelux are a match made in heaven too. The Tubus Fly rear rack is light and handy for strapping a raincoat to or mounting a couple of light panniers for a longer jaunt.

Minor niggles then: I'd like to be able to fit wider tyres. This is one of those compromises that comes up with touring-style frames. If you want cailper brakes then there's a practical limit to how wide a tyre you can fit. On the Thorn, with mudguards, that limit is about 28mm, although it's happier with 23mm tyres so I'll stick to those for the time being despite preferring wider rubber. The integral pump peg, while handy, is designed for a pump which appears to be no longer made, the magnificent Zefal HPX. I'm still sorting out some minor wheel and tyre issues, but once those are done I reckon we'll be as close to perfection as you can get!

3,952km so far this year.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Winter isn't a good time for cycling in Tasmania. Work's been busy, there's been lots to do at home, it's been cold and rainy and windy and very little riding has been done. I have lots of excuses. When there's not much riding, not much blogging either. Hopefully things will get better soon, because too much work and not enough riding makes for a dull life.

3528km so far this year.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The new whip

After around 30,000km of loyal service my Surly Cross Check has completed what was probably its last ride. Yesterday morning I swapped the parts over to a Thorn Audax frame - ordered over the internet and delivered in about two weeks. I'd had my eye on a Velo Orange Rando but their requirement you pay in full before they quote their shipping costs plus those astonishing costs (around $US300 to post a frame to Tasmania versus around $75 from the UK) meant the Thorn was much  value for money.

I'll admit to being just a little bit sentimental about my last ride on the Cross Check, though it was just a short trip up the cycleway from work. We've done some miles together: two Oppys, several Mallee Routes, my first 300km ride, a most enjoyable tour last year, the Dovernighter and many other backcountry trips. It's a bike that's served me well but it's showing the wear and tear you'd expect from a frame that's been ridden hard and long across all sorts of terrain. To give the Crosscheck its rightful due, I'm actually replacing it with two bikes - the Thorn as a fast tourer and Audax bike, and a yet-to-be-decided back country bike-packing cyclocross bike - probably based on a Geneis Croix de Fer frame.

The problem with the Cross Check is that it's not designed for longer rides, a 'fault' - if it is one that - it shared with my Bianchi. I needed something fast, which easily took lights and mudguards and with the ability to carry a little gear, say something that I could ride for a week to to Mallee Routes for example and then use for the 600km. The Cross Check and the Bianchi seem to reach their limits around 300km.

The bike went together reasonably easily. There was some fiddling with the mudguards - as there usually is - but apart from that it was pretty straightforward. It seems to be everything I wanted is there: there's no toe-clip overlap at all and there are plenty of braze-ons for racks and mudguards and the like. (Though the second waterbottle mount is a bit low, meaning it clashes with the front derailleur band. Some filing will be required.) Being able to use caliper brakes is a blessing after years of cantis although much of the benefit is probably aesthetic. (The long-reach Miche brakes were a real bargain for just $27 the set at Speaking of aesthetics, the fender line is also much neater than on the Cross Check. The tighter clearance however means I'm limited to 28mm tyres at the widest. Thanks to some cracks in my Son generator hub rim I'm using the Shimano road wheels from the Bianchi for a few days until I can replace the rim, so I'm without lights - a problem I hope to remedy pretty quickly. A bike without lights (or fenders) just isn't really that useful a bike in my opinion.

So how does it ride? Very nicely. The steering is noticeably quicker than the Crosscheck, more like a racing bike than a tourer, but it still rides just fine no hands. The shorter chainstays mean the bike handles short bursts of acceleration well. There are a few minor quirks that will take some getting used to - like a tendancy to pop wheelies with a rear load aboard up steep hills. I think I need slightly wider and more supple tyres than the 25mm Gatorskins I'm running, particularly on dirt roads. I need to sort out a front rack for my handlebar bag. On the whole I'm very  happy with the frame. It seems slightly lighter and just as comfortable as the Cross Check. I have some big plans for this bike - if I share have half the adventures on this as I had on the Surly, I'll be well pleased. With some luck we'll go far this new bike and I. My only worry is that I might have to find a new nickname.

2744km so far this year.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The good oil from Surly HQ

Nice piece just posted on the Surly blog. Sums up some of my feelings quite well. A taste:

If you think your bike looks good, it does.
If you like the way your bike rides, it’s an awesome bike.
You don’t need to spend a million dollars to have a great bike, but if you do spend a million dollars and know what you want you’ll probably also have a great bike.
Yes, you can tour on your bike – whatever it is.
Yes, you can race on your bike – whatever it is.
Yes, you can commute on your bike – whatever it is.
26” wheels or 29” or 650b or 700c or 24” or 20” or whatever – yes, that wheel size is rad and you’ll probably get where you’re going. 

More here.


Outbound route: 84.0km, 1694m climbing. Return route: 67.4km, 1024m climbing. 

Me and Kiwi tackling a climb on the Woodhooker Highway Photo: Ben.

In the forests of Southern Tasmania lurk miles and miles of gravel logging roads. During the week they're the playground of massive speeding log trucks but on the weekend they're generally free of traffic bar the occasional lost tourist and the odd woodhooker seeking to scrounge a trailer-load of free firewood from under the noses of the forestry folk and the prefect destination for the adventurous cyclist.

Ben and I had been talking of a trip to Maydena, no mean undertaking at 80km, strung together by my mate Keith from long experience of these wild roads and careful gazing at satellite maps online. Sadly I'd had to cancel at the last minute because of illness and Benny and some of the lads from Bottles and Chains decided to tackle the mythical Dovernighter - a long lope through the forests and ranges that stretch from Judbury to Dover, a journey that takes in just a few hundred metres of sealed road. I mapped the route on RideWithGPS and hoped I might come good in time.

By Saturday I was feeling a lot better and after completing the Dash of Honour without major mishap I decided I'd be ok for Sunday's ride. I loaded the Crosscheck with two small panniers and a handlbar bag and hoped the load wouldn't be too much for the climbing that lay ahead. The lads had breakfast in Huonville and I met them at the Judbury Hall where Kiwi fixed a problem with the back tyre on his stylish hardtail mountain bike. The first ten kilometres rolled under our wheels peacefully and we  spun up the Dennison Range, the first of the days hills and one which I particularly dislike for its length and steepness. 

The hill beyond the Denison Range took up to the Ta Ann verneer mill and the bridge over the mightly Huon River, swollen from recent rains. We took a break and had a bite to eat before setting off on the section Ben calls The Woodhooker Highway, a broad smooth, gently uphill road which the trucks from the mill use to get to the main road at Geveston. It was on the last climb up to the Arve Road we realised that we were in for a long day in the saddle.

A late lunch was had at the side of the road before we remounted to tackle what I had perhaps undersold as a 200m climb to the high point of the ride. It turned out to be a bit closer to 450m. The general truthfulness and accuracy of newspaper reporters was called into question as Mischa and Kiwi disappeared up the grade and Benny taught me how to put new emphasis on old swear words as we wheeled our bikes each corner to reveal even more climbing. It wasn't until 3.30pm that we were at the summit.

From that point on, my memory told me that the ride was basically downhill and I was happy that on this occasion I was correct. Winter days in Southern Tasmania are short and we were running out of daylight, so we donned shell jackets and got on with the riding. We zoomed down the seemingly endless descent, dodging the larger rocks on corners and dared glances at the stunning mountain scenery as we went. In an hour we covered more distance than the previous three. In time we reached a sign proclaiming 14km to Dover - further than we might have hoped   though that leg too was mostly downhill and as  darkness neared we were able to crank out the short distance into town without major difficulty, though we were all pretty pleased to see the pub. Several beers and a big feed followed and we settled in for the night in the near-waterfront house Ben had arranged for our accomodation.

The holiday Monday morning found us not quite as fresh as the day before, but an easier ride beckoned, for we'd decided to take the Esparance Coast Road home. Leaving our digs, we stopped for a hearty breakfast at the Dover takeway store and pedalled through the crisp morning along the water, marvelling at the views. And they only got better. After cresting a couple of large climbs we settled into a pattern of repeating undulations, delivering us breathtaking views over the D'Entrecasteaux Channel and the Huon River and taking us through pretty little settlements of holiday shacks. Only the odd behaviour of one driver who seemed unable to pass a line of cyclists riding single file marred a perfect morning of riding.

We allowed ourselves a coffee break in the weak winter sunshine at Geeveston and again 20km later at Huonville, where Ben said goodbye and the three of us turned to Judbury. The last 15 kilometres are familiar roads for me and after bidding Mischa and Kiwi goodbye it was only the final 200m of vertical to home that tested my legs before a welcome beer and soak in the bath.

It may not be a ride I do that often, but the Dovernighter turned out to be just as good as we'd hoped. Now Maydena beckons.
Mischa cranks out the last mile to Judbury as the sun sinks.
First day ride profile: the third hill is the big one. 

Cover boy Steve

I've made my living as a journalist for the last 20 years (not that you'd know that from the general standard of this blog)  so seeing a story of mine in print isn't the big deal for me it once was. But for some reason getting a story published in the Audax Australia magazine is still a big thrill for me. And getting the cover shot with a photo I took of my mate Steve on the Oppy is an even bigger blast again.

Dash of Honour II

I spent the second half of last week fighting off a stomach bug, so I was a little surprised to find myself even considering the Dash of Honour. The Dash is a 100-lap, nighttime race without rules around a 300m sort-of cobblestone course at Hobart's cenotaph. The ride looked like fun so I resolved to just roll around at a moderate pace for my own amusement. I was preparing the Crosscheck for a weekend of touring, so I switched out the Grand Bois tyres for some Schwalbe Marathons to better hold the track and whacked on a front light after finding some cracks in the rim on my generator hub. Bummer, another repair job for down the track. 
There was a bit over a dozen starters, riding everything from road bikes to a BMX to some sort of Frankenbike with a sidecar attached. The pace was furious from the get-go and after missing a gear change, I was quickly lapped by the field. No big problem as I wasn't intending to be particularly competitive but I found my pace increasing. I slowly reeled in some of the fading frontmarkers as other riders dropped out to drink beer on the sidelines. Despite my increase in pace, I was never in danger of catching the leaders, partly because I wasn't exactly sure how many laps I had completed.

I'm sure the designers of this piece of track never intended it for this sort of event, but it was actually quite amenable to bike racing. At around 30km/h, each lap rolled by in about 30 seconds, with an uphill and a downhill straight and an corresponding fast and slow hairpin corner at each end. Not sure a touring bike is the best thing for this sort of thing, but once the Surly got up to speed there was no stopping her.
Eventually, after 100, or perhaps 103 circuits, all but one of the remaining riders had finished and I decided to call it a day. Where did I finish? Not so sure. Fifth? Fourth perhaps? No big deal, the Dash of Honour was a delightful way to fill in a chilly Saturday evening. Thanks to Bicycle Tim for organising the event.

2656km so far this year.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Short term review: Grand Bois 30mm tyres

Contrary to popular perception, narrow tyres aren't necessarily what most cyclists need. They might be fine for racing, but for the vast majority of us a wider tyre is going to be just as quick, a lot more comfortable, safer and durable.

I've been running Schwalbe Marathon 32mm tyres for the last few months. They're impressive tyres to be sure, plush and sure-footed and resistant to punctures on the dirt roads I do most of my travelling on. The only downside is that they're heavy and not terribly sexy.

I treated myself to a pair of Grand Bois Cypres a month ago, but thanks to various commitments I haven't had much of a chance to test them out until this weekend. They are a very impressive tyre.

First impressions are they they're light. Thin-walled and with a folding bead, there's not much to them. They went onto the rims fine and present a pleasantly rounded profile at 70 psi, which is what I'm choosing to run them at for the time being. A little more air might make them a shade faster, but at the cost of comfort. They're sold as 30mm tyres, but they're closer to 32mm.

On the road the Grand Bois Cypres live up to their reputation as a supple smooth-rolling tyre. That lovely hum that good road tyres make is just audible, even at the lower pressures. They soak up the bumps nicely and feel safe through corners. They feel particularly smooth at lower speeds - something I've noticed on climbs.  There's not much tread on them and it's not really thick, but customer reviews and none other than Jan Heine reckon they're durable and puncture resistant. Time will tell, although 70km of dirt roads over the last few days hasn't put a mark on them.

They're made in Japan, apparently for the delightful Grand Bois bike shop. I'd love one of their stunning Model C  frames pictured right, though I don't speak Japanese and very possibly don't have the money.

What I like most about these wider, softer tyres is that they give me the ability to safely roll off the shoulder onto the dirt to let traffic by. The Grand Bois are as sure-footed as the Schwalbes in that respect. And are they fast? They'll do fine. A steady ride this morning turned into a personal best for a course I ride most weeks, so they're certainly not slowing me down.

2291km so far this year.

Long term review: cheap cranksets

You can spend a lot of money on a crankset. There's a lovely Campagnolo piece for sale at Wiggle for $1077. Lots of carbon, weighs in at 585 grams. Nice, thanks, but I'll pass.

My tastes run to the more utilitarian end of the spectrum where you're also likely to run into a little more sanity than the 53/39 tooth chainrings that come as stock standard these days on just about every bike from a Tour de France wannabe to hybrid commuters. Big gears are fine for sprinting, when you're going to hit 60km/h or more. They're of no use at all the rest of the time. I'd like to keep my knees thanks.

About a year ago I bought myself a Shimano Deore crankset for the Crosscheck. It was relatively inexpensive and had external bearings so it seemed to be an upgrade. I whipped the old Stronglight Impact crankset off and sold it on ebay.
A couple of weeks ago I noticed that the chainring teeth on the Deore crankset were hooked. This isn't that unusual in cranksets that have done hard miles, but this crankset is barely a year old and has probably only done about 4000km. Not real flash.
So it's back to the Stronglight crankset (723 grams) for me. It's good looking, a basic workhorse, though it doesn't even have ramps or pins to help with the shifting (though it doesn't seem to affect performance) but it's light and tough and durable and works just fine for my purposes. (It's reviewed here with muted enthusiasm) I even had a couple of old bottom brackets lying around the workshop which it fitted on just fine. The biggest advantage is that is comes with 44-34-24 ratios, which are just perfect for the sort of riding around I do, where speeds of 60km/h plus are a little uncommon. And for only around a hundred bucks, they're a bargain too.

2256km so far this year.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Man with the Hammer

I took our two dogs for a six or eight kilometre ride today, something they need every day or two or they get restless. We arrived home, but then the restless one was me and something seemed to be calling me to head out exploring so I locked the dogs inside and turned straight back around. I'd had a light lunch about an hour before and briefly considered grabbing an energy bar but couldn't find one in a hurry and I was just keen to get out on the road.

It had been my rough plan to just take an easy spin out to the foot of the Denison Range about 10km from home, take some photos of the view and spin home. It's a pretty flat ride by Tasmanian standards, with only a 300m climb right at the end. There were dark clouds scudding across the valley, though it didn't look like rain was overly likely. The first few kilometres went by pretty quickly as I burned off some excess energy and settled into a rhythm on the Long Haul Trucker. 

I arrived at the bottom of the Denison Range climb and decided to ride a little way up to enjoy the view. I took some photos and I noticed the Lonnavale Road I've always wanted to check out was just down the hill. Not being in a hurry I rolled down the hill and turned left.

I've probably mentioned it before, but the countryside in this part of the world is absolutely stunning. The well-made dirt road snakes along the river valley, there are little farms and scattered houses on either side and there is hardly any traffic. The sun peeked out from behind the clouds and silhouetted the trees on the ridgelines in the distance. So far, so good.

The fist pangs of hunger hit about five kilometres up the road. I knew what would happen eventually, but I thought I'd tempt fate and see how far the road went. This was virgin territory and who knows what wonders lie beyond the next bend? About eight kilometres from the turnoff I passed the campground, then a crossroads and ended up at a bridge across the Russell River which seemed as good a place as any to turn around. The road back was mainly downhill, I had a gentle tailwind and was still making good time and although my energy levels were starting to drop I was confident I'd just make it the remaining dozen kilometres or so home before I blew up.

There's a famous Daniel Rebour cartoon showing what happens to cyclists who don't match their energy intake to their expenditure. It shows some poor bastard copping it from The Man with the Hammer. It's a pretty accurate depiction of what happens. In a more innocent age, we used to call it "bonking": there's a gradual lead-up to be sure, but ignore the warning signs for long enough and one minute you're moving ok, the next you're sitting starving and spent at the roadside wondering how the hell you're going to get home. It's sufficiently memorable that I can say with certainty that it's happened to me exactly four times in my life, and it's not a pleasant experience. By kilometre 35, with 5km left, the Man with the Hammer was about 100 metres behind me and gaining fast. I was pushing lower and lower gears and my pace was slowing and all I could think about was how soon I might be able to get something to eat.

The Man struck about two kilometres from home, a short distance up the long climb to my place. I was ok, then I wasn't. I gave up pedalling and slowly wheeled the bike up the road, wishing I'd been slightly less ambitious with the distance or at least taken something to keep the hunger at bay. All in all not a bad 40km jaunt, but the visit from the Man With the Hammer is not something I'm going to need reminding of for a while.

2204km so far this year.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Kaoota - Margate tramway

Having the right bike for the job is an overrated obsession. I've recently sold my mountain bike, so my venerable Surly Long Haul Trucker is filling in the the gaps. It's supposedly an on-road tourer but plenty tough so I thought I'd give it a blast on the Kaoota tramway.

This ride is a favourite of my mate Benny, who is sporting an unstoppable new 29er. We met at Margate and spun up the hill to Allens Rivulet, where the climbing began in earnest, up a long gravel road I've long wanted to follow on a bike. Despite my fairly ordinary fitness we were up at the start of the track in less than an hour having greatly enjoyed the climb up past the shacks  perched improbably high on Kaoota Road. What came next was even better.

The tramway itself winds down from around 400m to sea level over 12km. You seldom get back what you put in on the climb, but the gentle gradient prolonged the pleasure. It has has been raining a bit lately so the first three kilometres or so was an interesting experience on the wide slicks, the front wheel jagging left and right on the greasy trail as I tried to pick a line though the worst of it. I let a little air out of both tyres, which seemed to help. 

The track dried out from there on in and we were treated to a thrilling gradual descent through the forest. Ben, familiar with the track and daring on his new bike, disappeared from view as I picked my way down the trail. Some knobbies might be  handy if I'm doing this sort of thing more often, though the bike handled the conditions surprisingly well. The return to Margate took in some of the local horse trails between grassy paddocks.

I love it when a ride I've wanted to do for a while lives up to my expectations, and this ride delivers in spades. Hopefully I'll be back for another go soon. 

2165km so far this year.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mr Abbott's beater bike

It's reasonably well known federal opposition leader Tony Abbott is a keen cyclist and sometime triathlete. There were some nice shots of him riding up and down Black Mountain in Canberra braving the pre-dawn chill in the middle of the week. Keen cyclists learned something about the man who would be prime minister:

1. He has a winter beater bike in Canberra. It looks to be a steel-framed Merinda running an old eight- or nine-speed group by the look of it. The bike he's most often seen out on in Sydney is a carbon fibre Trek.

2. He's put his front wheel in backwards. The quick release lever is on the wrong side.

3. In addition to that, his front brake quick release is open.

4. It's not as obvious from this photograph, but his saddle is a little high.

Friends don't let friends ride carbon, but would you vote for a man who likes an each way bet?

(Update. I'm reliably informed Mr Abbott's beater has an aluminium frame. Shows how much I know.)

2111km so far this year.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

I spoil myself again

I bought myself a natty Gilles Berthoud handlebar bag as a birthday present last week to match the little panniers I bought a while back. (Bless the strong Australian dollar and Internet shopping.) After using a handlebar bag so successfully on my tour last year I decided I'd spend the money to buy a bag which would enable me to stash things like arm warmers and beanies while on the go and having easy access to snacks and camera et cetera. I was keen on the Berthoud because it sits low - below the level of the handlebar - unlike the Topeak bag I was using.

The Berthoud bag hasn't disappointed: it looks a million dollars and sits nicely on my Nitto front rack. It is certainly commodious. I did have to relocate my headlight onto the rack, but that was no big deal.

I have a a cold at the moment and I'm unable to ride beyond short jaunts up and down the driveway. Perhaps tomorrow I'll take if for a test on the rough roads between here and town. The only drawback with such a nice piece of kit is that all that French elegance makes the Crosscheck look a little shabby. Perhaps a new frame is in order. With the Australian dollar doing so well, it's certainly being considered.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Sometimes it's the little things.

I'd planned with Bicycle Tim and Benny to go for a ride on Saturday morning and for some reason was really looking forward to riding the Bianchi. After commuting on the Crosscheck all week the red racer makes a nice change of pace, so I was up early, switching the lightweight tyres for something more durable before I put the bike in the car for the quick trip into town.

Once there and unloaded, it only took a dozen pedal strokes to realise something was badly wrong with the gears. The right brifter was all, well mushy, and the gears at first changed sluggishly and then jammed. Bugger. It didn't take long to figure out the rear gear cable had snapped.

I've heard of this happening, but I've never experienced it myself: the cable had broken inside the shifter about an inch from the nipple and my attempts to change gears had only succeeded in winding the frayed remains further inside the mechanism. It looked to me like my plans for a ride were over.

Hoping Tim might arrive shortly with a spare cable (he did!) I unwrapped the double thickness of bar tape and took the lever off. There followed an hour or fiddling with improvised tools before I was finally able to coax the cable end out. Five minutes later, I was good to go, and we had an extremely pleasant 60km ride with a coffee stop in Cygnet. 

It was a bastard of a repair job and would have been almost impossible to do by the roadside, almost but not quite enough to drive a man back into the arms of simple, old fashioned and ever-reliable friction shifting. How close must this cable have been to failing during the entire Oppy? It had literally two or three more shifts left in it, finally giving way in the next 200 metres I rode. How lucky was I not to DNF because of a dozen strands of cheap wire?  Here's a photo of what is possibly the smallest thing that nearly ruined a Saturday for me:

Guess who will be making a point of inspecting and changing his cables more regularly now? And carrying a spare!

1690km so far this year.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Travelling light

When I did a week of touring last year on the way to the Mallee Routes audax ride I cut my load down to the bare minimum and it worked really well. I had everything I needed and I was able to cover good distances each day without feeling I was being slowed down by too much gear. I made a mental note to write something on ultralightweight cycle touring for this blog but then of course forgot all about it. My memory was jogged when I was going through some photos today. 

The photo to the top left (ignore the appalling hotel bedspread background) contains everything I took for a week of touring. From left to right, the most important bits were: wool jersey, merino t-shirt, coolmax t-shirt and lightweight long pants; three pairs of and winter and summer gloves; cycling shorts and longs, lightweight off-bike shoes, toiletries, tools, lock, torch and phone. The panniers and handlebar bag are on the right. Not shown is my rain jacket.

Now this amount of gear was just fine for a hotel-based adventure where a tent and cooking gear aren't needed. That's the sort of touring I enjoy the most, it's not quite the old "credit card and toothbrush" experience but it's pretty close. 

The whole load fitted into my two small panniers, racktop back and handlebar bag. 

The wool jersey I bought last year is particularly handy for this sort of trip because it can be worn on and off the bike and can go a few days without the need for laundering. Similarly the lightweight merino undershirts which can double as t-shirts if needed. The coolmax shirts dry extremely quickly so they can be washed in a hotel sink.  

Next time I think I'll ditch the rack top back and instead buy one of the lovely Gilles Berthoud handlebar bags instead. I've declared my undying love for handlebar bags already, I just need to save my pennies. I'd probably also ditch the spare shoes, because they took up a fair bit of room in my bags. I've also refined my toolkit down considerably. 

I'm planning another trip later this year. The lessons I learned on the Mallee Routes trip last year will come in very hand indeed.

1632km so far this year.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oppy 2011

The Oppy is my favourite ride, it has been for years. It's a challenge, but with the company and support of a bunch of good friends and some excellent night riding thrown in. The idea is to cover 360km or more in 24 hours. It requires some determination but is within the reach of the ordinary cyclist, of which I am decidedly one. This year's Oppy - my fourth - was easily the best. (2007, 2008, and 2009 rides here for comparison.) Sir Hubert Opperman, whom the ride commemorates, was Australia's greatest endurance cyclist.

There were plenty of reasons it was good, but most of all it was good because I was far fitter than I've been for a while. Having dropped some weight (about six kilograms) and putting in some hard miles in the leadup has made me a much stronger rider, enough to realise dropping another six kilograms would make me even better. 

There were 11 of us in the Lairs peloton this year, riding from Tooberac, doing a big loop around Shepparton, crossing briefly into NSW before heading through Echuca to Rochester.

The weather conditions were perfect, still and warm during both day and night, and not a drop of rain. We were treated to both a delightful sunset but also the rise and company of the largest full moon in years. We made the most of the conditions too, speeding through the first couple of hundred kilometres before nightfall when the something unusual happened: we actually sped up. 

Through the night we raced, sitting between 25km/h and 28km/h for long stretches and the miles fairly rolled by. We kept our rest breaks short thanks to the experience of some of our early rides when we paid the price of being slow out of controls. We had discussed earlier the option of extending the ride to a nice round 400km but for some reason enthusiasm diminished as the night drew on. Next year perhaps.

The only interruption to my otherwise perfect ride was a puncture at kilometre 336, about two kilometres from the football club were were to sleep. Quickly fixed, we were back on our way and I was able to full enjoy three hours sleep until were were up at six and on the road at seven. The last 30 kilometres into Rochester coincided with the sunrise. The brass band kicked up as we rode down the main street and the small crowd clapped and cheers as we pulled in to the park by the Oppy statue for the traditional round of backslaps and handshakes and team photographs. I'm a little tired this afternoon, but stoked that such a tough ride went so well for all of us.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

There's an app for that

The humble cycle computer has come a long way since I was a kid. There's no end of GPS-enabled pieces of kit with heart rate monitors and watt meters and other handy gadgets. Though I am pretty conscientious about keeping track of my riding data, a simple cycle computer has been quite sufficient for me for the past few years, though I've been tempted by some of the bike mounted GPS units - until I see the price!

I've played with a few iPhone apps of late and have been thoroughly impressed by one in particular. Cyclemeter has all sorts of handy functions I never knew I needed. It tracks and records your ride of course, but also offers simple one-click uploading to Facebook and Twitter, calendar integration and plenty of other impressive features. And if you so desire it will tweet or update your Facebook page at set time or distance intervals and read out the responses from your friends. It auto stops and starts. My favourite feature is the voice announcements (which I have set to alert me every kilometre because I find them so charming) in which an Englishwoman's voice tells you how far and fast you have gone. As a bonus, the app is very economical on the phone's battery, provide you ride with the screen turned off. I tend to leave it in my back jersey pocket, the voice announcements cheerily reminding me that it's still working away.

1124km so far this year.

Friday, February 11, 2011

A perfect morning's excursion

I rode a very pleasant 18km to the bus this morning. It was warm, though the sun had not been up long. The blanket of fog I descended through zooming down the hill from home didn't quite reach the valley floor. Just three cars passed me in the 40 minutes it took me to ride along the rough dirt road to Huonville and the bus. I knew all the drivers and all of them waved as they slowed and gave me a wide berth passing. The wide Schwalbe tyres on the Crosscheck soaked up the bumps on the gravel road beautifully. The ride home was about the same, but without the traffic. We're a one car family for a while and though it means some minor inconvenience, it also means I'm able to get a some more time on the bike. 

It's February, which means FebFast: a month off the grog. As a challenge, my household has cut its alcohol consumption from a case (or two) of beer a week to zero. Into the bargain I've given up soft drink and bacon and egg rolls from the work canteen. If it's going to be a month of abstinence, it might as well be a good one.

As I've probably complained here before I have struggled to find a regular ride that isn't so hilly as to make daily riding exhausting or too clogged with traffic to be enjoyable. Apart from a 300m hill at the home end, the road from here to town is pretty flat by Tasmania standards. It's a nice ride: slightly harder coming home because of the hill, but pleasant enough to do every day. I've racked up 200km this week which is about twice my average. I can read on the bus - and the paper I work for pays reporters $50 for book reviews, which means my travel almost pays for itself.

Normally I'd be buggered after a week of work and riding. But the exercise and improved  diet means I've dropped about 4kg in three weeks and suddenly I'm riding faster and with less effort. I feel good when I get out of bed in the morning and don't seem to be as tired in the evenings. Diet and exercise huh? Who would have thought it?

I'm wondering how long this pleasant experience will last. I'm pretty committed to see out the next six weeks until I ride the 360km Opperman All Day Trial Summer in Tasmania is brief. This year hasn't been much of a summer at all but even so in a week or two as the days continue to get shorter I'll be leaving home in the dark, which isn't too big a problem because I have lights and sunrise won't be too far away. It will cool down, but I have warm enough clothes for that. Daylight Savings ends at the end of March, so it will be dark at both ends of the day, which means a man has to be pretty determined to push on. And I'll get my car back in a week or two and I'll have to ride past it each morning to the gate. It's temping, always tempting, despite the pleasures of the ride. We shall see. It's easy to make rash promises when its warm and dry. 

570km so far this year.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The 2010 annual report.

So another year is over. Hope your 2010 was good, though it won't go down in the annals as one of my better cycling years. I manged 5036km which is my lowest total since 2005.  Generally I aim for 7500 or so and manage 6000. Still, I'll never argue mileage is measure of fun.

In my defence, there were a couple of things which held me back. I skipped the Opperman All Day Trial this year, so there's 360km of the missing 1000km straight away. I also spent November in China where I didn't have access to a bike for most of the month. Then there a the run-in with a Metro bus in April which meant I no longer had the nerve to ride in what passes for peak hour traffic in Hobart. As a result of that, I spent a lot more time in the gym this year instead of on the road.

Enough of the readings from the Big Book of Excuses; my 5036km came up in 264 hours and at an average of 19.02km/h. I'm 2km/h slower this year, not because of the ravages of age, but because I'm riding a lot more hills and a lot more gravel so it's hard to compare with years when most of my riding was fast road commutes. I passed the 30,000km and the 1500 hour mark since resuming riding in January 2005. I managed 144 rides, or 2.19 a week. It's the first year in five years my weekly average was under 100km, at 96.85km.

On the bright side, I cracked my first thousand-kilometre month in September, with 750km in one lovely week of the "Tour de Nord", including a memorable 300km one-day ride in the Mallee Routes. Reviewing the year's photos I remember a touring weekend up at Deloraine and plenty of trips out along the dirt roads of the Tahune. I also (just) completed the 200km Alpine Classic and the Winter Challenge and had my first go at bikepacking

On the topic of this blog: there were 27 posts in 2010. I had 6,700 visitors from 81 countries, Australia and the USA being the most frequent and Panama, Latvia, Mozambique and Iceland among the dozen or so with one visitor each. Visitors came directly, via Google searches (Schmidt Edelux, "flying with a bike" and "STI gears" being the most common search terms)  or via the websites of dear friends in the international randonneur community. Cheers to the folk  who arrived here after searching for "slowest up a hill" and "morbidly obese cyclist".

Who knows what 2011 has in store. I've set myself bold goals here before, which I always seem to fall short of, so I'm going to refrain this year. But to everyone who wanders by here from time to time, wherever you may ride this year, may the the wind be at your back through the whole of 2011 and beyond.

66km so far this year.